Yesterday, June 6th, I arrived at the protest on Seattle’s Capital Hill to find an officer engaging protesters in conversation at the police barricade at 12th Ave and Pike. The officer seemed like a decent guy and I got the impression he was being authentic in conversation.
When I first arrived, the officer was engaged with two protesters whose main point, as I recall, was that the officer’s good intentions could no longer be given the benefit of the doubt. That really sums up the situation on the ground as I’ve seen it, police want their ostensible good intentions taken on faith but trust has been irreparably damaged. That the police seem confused about why, I have no idea.
Once the conversation opened, I stepped in to tell the officer how I feel.
This is what I said, more or less. I said, as I see it, there’s always a gulf between an institution and the individuals that comprise it. And when a critical institution falls out of favor, it’s individual agents must differentiate themselves, for the sake of administration, with deliberate displays of symbolism and posture to communicate good faith. On both those points, however, you compromise our willingness to lend trust. For instance, your militarized posture, which requires no further explanation, and the Thin Blue Line flag on your chest.
By definition, I continued, the Thin Blue Line (TBL), is a reference to police as the force in society which holds back chaos. In practice, however, TBL has become a set of ideological beliefs that serve to reinforce the supposed necessity of police violence. This ideology is built on the premise that if police were not seen as capable of extreme, unflinching violence, society would collapse as a result. This is, more or less, how Killology founder Dave Grossman puts it in his seminars with police: The sheep (citizens) resent the sheepdogs (police) but it’s the sheepdogs that protect the sheep from the wolves (criminals), therefore the goal is to be a warrior.
You, officer, I went on, are a product of Killology, whether you know it or not (he didn’t), and the effects of Grossman’s tutelage are clear in the Washington Post data on police shootings. For instance, fully one third of fatal police shootings occur in circumstances where the application of deadly force is not clearly necessary. To me, that’s a “bad shoot” ratio of 1 in 3, not by the terms of what’s legally permissible but by the terms of objective necessity. That’s clear, data-informed evidence of police foisting the risk of policing onto citizens with a procedural doctrine of self-preservation. Of course, a primary motivation underlying this protest is the lack of criminal liability for those bad shoots. Furthermore, there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that the specter of “necessity” perceived by the “reasonable” officers involved in fatal “good” shoots is arbitrarily raised as a consequence of your procedural commitment to militarization.
Further still, I said, you should have been paying closer attention to the meaning of words before you put that TBL flag on your chest. Terrorism, which has no universal definition, is generally accepted as the unlawful use, or threatened use, of violence for political, ideological purposes. The officer accepted that definition. Then I explained that terrorism is actually an arbitrary term used to sort violence into groups of good and bad, but mostly its function in discourse is to make state violence good. Because rarely is it ever difficult to show that violence is bad. This is important to note because as police across the country have systematically used illegal, ideologically motivated violence against peaceful protesters in a political venue, they’ve defined themselves as literal terrorists by the terms of their own vernacular. This argument seemed to make a strong, self-reflective impression on the officer.
I went on to offer my opinion that a use of force standard that permits the use of force based on “objective necessity” would be an improvement over the “objective reasonableness” standard put forth by Graham V Connor. Here, the officer asked a practical question about the use of force. Specifically, the officer asked how he should behave in the face of defiance when public safety is at risk, like if someone refused an order to move off a busy street. He mentioned the “continuum of force” as his guide for decision making in such scenarios.
The first thing I thought when he mentioned the continuum of force is that the way police escalate force seems based on the expectation of rational response though police are often called to deal with people incapable of rationality, which is another way that the necessity of force is falsely perceived in use of force events. Also, the way he framed the question really seemed to highlight that violence, on an institutional level, is used as a singular solution to the multitude of problems police are called to address. I will revisit this point later. Anyway, by this time, others joined the conversation and I wasn’t able to properly respond to the officer. I would like to thank him however, in the unlikely event that he recognizes himself in this work, for listening in good faith, which I believe he did. And a final word to him: Please don’t forget that we’re counting on you to do the right thing.
From there, I went over to 11th and Pine to spend some time on the line. After a few hours I went home to write. When I got home, however, I read an article about the disconnect between white and black protesters which inspired me to return to the front to do my part to close that gap. My plan was to survey protesters on the particular policy items that are dear to them, and then report the findings to inform readers on the points of consensus within the crowd.
I learned two things. First, I’m not the right person for public interface and I am, admittedly, a terrible pollster. Second, the only policy consensus I found was that the window for policy reform has passed and that the time for total institutional transformation has arrived. I had all these policy proposals people could vote for but as I moved through the crowd I learned that no one was even remotely interested in any them. Seriously, no one. What I heard, however, over and over again, was that the police are unfit for the job they have and that the only reasonable solution is to defund, and then redirect funds to more appropriate civil services. Then, as if bound by duty to discredit their own profession, the terrorist police held another riot.
It’s now seems clear that police as we’ve known them are gone forever, because what had been denied and rationalized is now explicit and it can no longer be ignored. The police have become literal terrorists, by definition, armed with military gear, weapons and tactics, informed by a corporate system of total surveillance. Either police will yield and disband to allow law enforcement institutions to be redesigned, or they will knowingly revolt against our constitution to impose upon America an unprecedented age of fascist rule in the United States.